Thanks to a strategic leak by Sanford, Florida police, and a self-described friend (or coworker) Joe Oliver, we now know what George Zimmerman told police about what happened in the minutes before he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.
The account, printed in the Orlando Sentinel and repeated by Oliver in TV and print interviews, including with theGrio, is that Zimmerman had given up following Trayvon after losing sight of him, and was returning to his SUV when the 17-year-old appeared from nowhere and jumped him from behind, then punched him in the face, breaking his nose and dropping him to the ground, and banged his head repeatedly on the pavement. Zimmerman’s latest account, via the leaks, is that he and Trayvon struggled for his 9mm semiautomatic handgun, and he the shot the teen once in the chest, killing him.
Now, it has emerged that at least one Sanford police officer may not have believed Zimmerman’s story: the lead homicide investigator Chris Serino, who was reportedly overruled on making an arrest by the state attorney, Norman Wolfinger, or his office.
Indeed, there are several potential problems with Zimmerman’s account.
1. Nowhere to hide
The path from 1111 Retreat View Circle, the clubhouse inside the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes townhome complex, where Zimmerman told police he first spotted a suspicious person, to the backyard walkway where Trayvon died, has no hiding places. Trayvon would have walked along the curved Twin Trees road that leads off Retreat View Circle, out in the open between the front-facing, connected townhouses on both sides of the street. He would have then veered onto a sidewalk that runs behind the houses to a straight lane leading to the home of his father’s girlfriend. Because the homes and back yards are connected, there are no alleys or places to hide, let alone to lay in wait. The killing happened just two or three houses in, about 120 yards from Trayvon’s intended destination. It would seem nearly impossible for Zimmerman to have lost sight of the teen based on the physical layout.
2. What’s in the 1-minute gap?
Sanford police have admitted that there is a 1-minute gap in the 911 call tape between Zimmerman’s last communications with dispatchers and the time he is believed to have come in contact with Martin. Both Zimmerman’s supporters and Trayvon’s then-girlfriend claim the two exchanged words before the shooting. If that audio is not lost, will the audio be of Zimmerman asking “what are you doing here,” as the girlfriend claims, or Trayvon asking, “do you have a problem? You do now,” as Oliver relates on Zimmerman’s behalf.
3. What made Trayvon run?
Zimmerman told dispatchers the person he spotted was coming toward him, and then, moments later, he said the person was running. I talked to a veteran Florida police officer not connected to this case, who raised the question: Why? Did Trayvon see the gun and decide to flee? Or did he simply see Zimmerman get out of his car and run in fear? And once he decided to run, why wouldn’t a fleeing Trayvon simply keep running, given that he had a straight, unobstructed path to home and safety? Is it logical to assume he stopped running in order to double back and pursue the person he had been running from?
4. The 180 degree body
If the teen was kneeling, presumably, on top of George Zimmerman, punching him or slamming his head into the concrete walkway between the facing backyards, how did Trayvon wind up lying face down with HIS feet on the sidewalk and his face in the grass? If Zimmerman’s account is true, shouldn’t Trayvon’s body have wound up with his face toward the sidewalk and his feet in the grass? Even if, after the gunshot, Trayvon fell on top of Zimmerman and the larger man pushed him off, why didn’t the body land face up, beside Zimmerman, rather than a 180 degree turn from the sidewalk — and flipped over?
5. The un-broken nose
The police reports indicate Zimmerman was treated at the scene for bleeding from or on his nose and the back of his head. But if his nose was really broken, why did that information not appear in the police reports? And if Zimmerman was treated for a broken nose, when did the treatment take place, and where?
Watch this ShowMe presentation: Zimmerman’s account vs the map
6. Shifting stories
Zimmerman’s story has shifted over time. Initially, leaks suggested Zimmerman told police he confronted the teen, was punched in the face and dropped to the ground. This week, the Orlando Sentinel reported Zimmerman’s claim that he was no longer pursuing Trayvon and was followed back to his car (which cannot have been driven to the backyard lane where the shooting took place.) Zimmerman’s account has varied from claims that he was being pummeled in the face while on the ground to saying his head was being bashed into the sidewalk. Oliver told theGrio and other news outlets that Zimmerman told him there was a struggle for the gun, and that Zimmerman shot Trayvon to save his life. But in later interviews, he has hinted that Trayvon may have been shot by accident.
As one lawyer for Trayvon’s family, Natalie Jackson, said Tuesday on MSNBC, Zimmerman’s supporters appear to be shopping a defense to the public, and to potential jurors.
7. Arrest or no arrest?
Police reports indicate Zimmerman was placed into the back of a patrol car on the night of the shooting, and taken to the station. As one law enforcement veteran not connected to the Trayvon Martin case told me: if George Zimmerman couldn’t — or didn’t feel he could — tell the police officers at any time that he wished to get out of the patrol car and go home, he was effectively arrested, even though he was not subsequently charged.
And if Zimmerman is ultimately charged with the killing of Trayvon Martin, we will quickly learn the reason prosecutors are so cautious — in this instance, perhaps too cautious — in cases such as these. Under Florida’s speedy trial rule, once a person is charged with a felony, prosecutors must bring the defendant to trial within 175 days or risk having the case thrown out.
WATCH theGRIO’s JOY-ANN REID BREAK DOWN THE CRIME SCENE HERE:
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Follow Joy Reid on Twitter at @thereidreport